Stand By by Adam Macnamara – Army @ Summerhall, Edinburgh
The partnership between The Army and Summerhall, the Fringe’s experimental flag-bearer, may seems unlikely, but the festvial depends on Edinburgh’s endless supply of churches, meeting houses and masonic halls. The new venue, a Territorial HQ in Broughton staffed by very polite squaddies, is become an ideal location for performances about the Army itself and, in the case of Stand By, the police. Adam Macnamara’s tightly written drama is set in the back of a riot van, as officers wait for the signal to end a siege. Four characters pass the time bickering, playing jokes on each other, asserting status and expressing various levels of cynicism about the police and, particularly, the public.
The situation is a classic dramatic set-up, reminiscent of Pinter’s hitmen on stand-by play The Dumb Waiter. Macnamara is a former policeman, and this proves the perfect showcase both for his inside knowledge and impressive writing skills. His dialogue is particularly strong, and it is clear that he knows exactly how the police behave behind the scenes. Each of his characters is well-defined and complex, behaving as themselves rather than to type. The cast makes the most of the parts, with fine performances from Andy Clark, Jamie Marie Leary, Laurie Scott and Macnamara himself. The play is very funny, but also credibly tense as the situation outside the van lurches alarmingly out of control. The consequences of police under-resourcing are addressed as a natural part of the drama. Stand By is top quality writing in the hands of actors with the talent to make it sing.